Mozart on DVD
Important additions to any DVD library
The music loving public is being given a hefty dose, or possibly even an over-dose of live Mozart performances, in this, the 250 anniversary of his birth. The recording industry, in contrast, is keeping a far lower profile than it did in 1991, the 200 anniversary of his death. Nevertheless there have been some noteworthy DVD releases which are a must for any serious collector.
Arthaus Musik recently released the Glyndebourne Opera productions of the six best-known Mozart operas, Così fan tutte (Such do all women), Don Giovanni, The Abduction from the Seraglio, Idomeneo, Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute. These operas were recorded in the 1970’s and had been issued previously singly; now they are available as a boxed set. In the US, the set of 6 discs sells for the price of 3, a real bargain.
The Glyndebourne Opera Festival was founded by the industrialist, John Christie. He was prudent enough to engage as musical director, the German conductor Fritz Busch, who had left Nazi Germany. From the outset, Mozart was a major emphasis at Glyndebourne and the Marriage of Figaro and Così fan tutte featured in the debut season in 1934. A recording from this Così is still available. One can safely say that the international revival of Così, began in Glyndebourne. Following Mozart’s death, this ephemeral masterpiece fell into oblivion. The subject of wife swapping, the central theme of Così, was deemed too outlandish for prudish nineteenth century audiences. In this Arthaus Musik DVD set, Così fan tutte is given a very respectable performance with a cast of mostly young unknown but enthusiastic singers. It does feature British baritone Thomas Allen as the ardent lover Guglielmo. More recently Allen has taken the role of the cynical Don Alfonso who initiated the wager, challenging the young men about the fidelity of their fiancées.
Top marks of this remarkable Arthaus Musik DVD set goes without question to the Marriage of Figaro with a truly dream cast comprising the young radiant Kiri te Kanawa as the Countess, Ileana Cotrubas as Susanna and Frederica von Stade in her signature trouser role of Cherubino. The men also hold their own, with Benjamin Luxon as the Count and Knut Skram as Figaro. The delightful production is by Peter Hall.
Another very accomplished performance was the Magic Flute featuring Felicity Lott as Pamina and Benjamin Luxon as Papageno in an enchanting production by the artist, David Hockney. The star of the Abduction was the Jamaican bass Willard White as Osmin. His charismatic singing and acting are striking. However the rest of the enthusiastic cast also gets full marks.
Don Giovanni was not as exciting as the above four operas although Benjamin Luxon in the title role was most effective as was his servant Leporello sung by Stafford Dean. The only performance which was somewhat disappointing was Mozart’s early opera Idomeneo. It is given in an abridged version and the most satisfying performance came from Josephine Barstow as Electra.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra with the Glyndebourne chorus features in all six operas. In three it was conducted by the elegant Mozartian, John Pritchard. A young Bernard Haitink wields the baton in the Magic Flute and Don Giovanni and Gustav Kuhn conducts the Abduction. One of the traditions of Glyndebourne is adequate rehearsal time and this shows though in the orchestral accompaniment in all these recordings.
Another superb Magic Flute has been released on the TDK DVD label and also distributed by Naxos (Cat. No: DVWW-CLOPMF). This is from the legendary Ponnelle production recorded from the 1982 Salzburg Festival featuring James Levine conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. The stellar cast includes Ileana Cotrubas as Pamina, the dazzling soprano Edita Gruberova as Queen of the nights, Martti Talveda as Sarastro, Peter Schreier as Tamino and Christian Boesch as Papageno. This is another worthy DVD for any serious music lover. The production is simple but realistic and the emphasis in on the singing and what singing!#
Irving Spitz commutes between New York and Jerusalem and is a regular contributor to Education Update. He covers concerts for Education Update from Salzburg to London, from Santa Fe to Wolf Trap.